By: Brian Harris
Some throw away lines stick.
I was listening to an interview with Richard Foster of Celebration of Discipline fame and when asked why he declined most speaking invitations he said,”Because every yes is also a no,” and then elaborated that each engagement he said yes to was a no to his wife and family, a no to time alone with God, and a no to the contemplative, reflective person others wanted him to be.
Every yes is also a no. My yes to comfort food is a no to my healthy body; my watching one more TV episode is a no to waking early enough for prayer; my yes to a spurious invite is often a no to time with the family. Contrary to the hype of our time, you can’t have it all, so it’s worth reflecting on what you most want to say yes to.
It is not about whether we are too busy (or busy enough), but what we are busy with. Behind the discussion is a question of priorities and what really matters. It’s not as though we should say no to every appearance of comfort food, nor should our TV be permanently off, but it is about intentionality, thoughtfulness and the desired direction of our life. It is also about unintended and unacknowledged consequences, and the power of small habits to make a big difference.
The small habit I suggest we adopt is that each time we are about to say “yes” we pause and ask, “and what does this mean I am saying no to?” We might be OK with the answer, but then again we might not. We might need to plan some other activity to compensate for what we have unintentionally said no to.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the quiet life is superior to any other. I’d be a hypocrite if I did, for I enjoy a brisk pace and am very motivated by achieving things and getting things done. But there is a difference between a pace that is a stretch and one that is a snap. A stretch is good – a snap is not! Desperately saying yes to everything because we have a bad case of FOMO, is a formula for burnout and second rate decisions. Failing to think through what it means to prioritise family or friends is usually a poorly considered decision to neglect them.
All this might sound like worrying unnecessarily, unless we have a clear direction for our life. After all, if you aren’t planning to go anywhere particular, any bus can get you there. But if you know where you want to go, you think things through more carefully. You also think about what it will take to make the journey enjoyable.
For myself, I have tried to adopt Matt 6:33 as my guiding principle: “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.” I think it’s true. First, things first… Begin by trusting the goodness of God. Begin with the posture of “yes’ to God. Then, in the wonderful rhythm of God’s grace, even if we don’t have it all, and even if things don’t go at all to plan, we will have more than enough…